Right, the Laois club football leagues are done and dusted and championship season is upon us.
A couple of months ago, we caused a bit of a stir with out rankings of the Laois football teams.
Some didn’t agree with the order of the teams, some argued that certain teams should have made the top 39.
In any case, we’re back and we’ve updated them to take into account the latter stages of the leagues and how clubs stand now as the various championships get underway.
39 – Spink (Down 7)
It isn’t so long ago that Spink were an intermediate team but they were really disappointing in the Junior championship last year. Whether it was their Gaels association with Crettyard or their success with Ballinakill in the hurling, they just don’t seem to be the force they used to be. They pulled out of Division 3 and will certainly need the Ballinakill hurlers on board if they are to turn things around.
38 – Camross (Up 1)
The step up from one grade to another is always difficult, but this is perhaps more magnified the further down the ladder that you go. Camross won the Junior ‘B’ title last year and are now Junior ‘A’ but find themselves in a group containing The Heath, Stradbally and favourites Park-Ratheniska – so they could well struggle. However, they did win Division 5 a few weeks ago and with the likes of Ciarán Collier, Robert Tyrell, Dwane Palmer and Oisin Bennett in their ranks, they’ll be competitive.
37 – Killeshin (Second Team) (Up 1)
Killeshin’s second team played in Division 3 of the ACFL and struggled for much of it – shipping big losses against Graiguecullen and Mountmellick. But they did finish well and depending on who they lose to the senior, they may well surprise a few.
36 – Ballyroan-Abbey (Second Team) (Down 1)
It’s extremely rare that a team who win a league title fall down the rankings – but they probably shouldn’t have been so high in the first place. Ballyroan-Abbey beat O’Dempsey’s third team to win Division 4 a few weeks ago and although they sit 36th right now, we are bracing ourselves to be proved wrong.
35 – Stradbally (Second Team) (Down 1)
The second string of the current senior county champions made the last eight of the Junior ‘A’ competition last year but they find themselves in a very competitive group containing The Heath and Park-Ratheniska this time so they may not advance beyond it. They didn’t enjoy the best of league campaigns either.
34 – Portarlington (Second Team) (Up 3)
A bit like Killeshin, this is a young team who struggled at the beginning of their Division 3 campaign. However, they got going in the second half of the season to finish mid-table. They find themselves in a Group C of the Junior championship with recently relegated Kilcavan and getting out of that won’t be easy.
33 – Ballylinan (Second Team) (Up 2)
There really isn’t much between most of the second teams at junior level but Ballylinan are another who are expected to find it difficult to get out of their group in the championship. They did achieve a fourth placed finish in Division 3 though which keeps them a little higher than the rest.
32 – The Heath (Second Team) (Down 1)
It is worrying to see this team pull out of the league this year and it hardly bodes well for them come championship. The Heath’s second team were intermediate a few years ago and are one of the more consistent second teams out there. It will likely come down between themselves and Stradbally for a knockout place in the Junior ‘A’ championship.
31 – The Harps (Down 2)
The Harps exited the junior championship early last year but, buoyed by the promotion of three Laois minor players this year – Ciarán Comerford, Daniel Comerford and Podge Delaney – they could well be the surprise package of this year at junior level. Hurling will always come first you’d imagine but they have the makings of a competitive Junior football side.
30 – Portlaoise (Third Team) (Down 2)
The Town’s third string reached the semi-final of the Junior championship last year before bowing out against Park-Ratheniska. After a great start to Division 3, they tapered away in the end and it remains to be seen if they can recover for the championship. They will also be exposed to losing players to the two teams operating at higher levels in their own club.
29 – O’Dempsey’s (Second Team) (Up 4)
O’Dempsey’s are in a three-team group along with Spink and Portlaoise, the latter having knocked them out early in last year’s championship. But they come into it in the best form out of any of the three teams following a league campaign which took them all the way to the final where they lost to Graiguecullen.
28 – Graiguecullen (Second Team) (Up 2)
Another team who were intermediate until a few years ago. The Barrowsiders second string find themselves in Group C of the Junior championship and ended the league in pole position with 21 points out of a possible 22. And they capped that run off by beating O’Dempsey’s in the decider.
27 – Kilcavan (Down 1)
Kilcavan have yo-yoed back and forth between intermediate and junior level in the last number of years. The last time they were down here, they stunned Courtwood as Mick Tarpey scored a hat-trick to win the final in 2013. An ageing squad but plenty of experience needed to win the title and they’ll fancy their chances. However, their poor league campaign sees them down one place.
26 – Park-Ratheniska (Down 1)
Park-Ratheniska began the year as our favourites to win the Junior championship having just been edged out by a very good Rosenallis side last year. They didn’t have the greatest Division 2 campaign however and they are in a tough group containing Stradbally and The Heath. They should come through that and they will go very close again.
25 – St Joseph’s (Second Team) (Up 2)
St Joseph’s second string competed in the ACFL Division 2 where they almost gained promotion. They lost out in the championship to Park-Ratheniska last year but they should be primed to get out of their group this season and will push hard to win it outright.
24 – The Rock (No Change)
This position may seem harsh given that The Rock reached the semi-final of the Intermediate championship last year – but other teams in the grade have improved this year and it appears they have not. They lost all of the Division 2 games resulting in relegation and if they lose their first round game against Courtwood, it could well be an uphill battle.
23 – Barrowhouse (No Change)
John Larkin’s men saved their Intermediate status last year by defeating Kilcavan in a relegation final and one fears they may be set for a similar fate this year. In saying that, they enjoyed a decent Division 2 – being in the promotion mix until the end. An improving side but the loss of Brian Daly to St Joseph’s is certainly a big blow.
22 – Annanough (Down 2)
Perennial intermediate side Annanough are always in the mix at this grade but have failed to make the step up despite going close on numerous occasions. They had a bad championship last year and that continued into the league, albeit in Division 1B, where they suffered relegation after pulling out in the end. They face a difficult first round tie against championship favourites Emo and it would be a massive upset if they were to win that.
21 – Rosenallis (Up 1)
We spoke earlier about the difficulty for teams moving up from a grade below, but if any team can bridge that gap at the first time of asking – it would be Rosenallis. They caused a shock by beating Park-Ratheniska in the Junior final last year but went on to reach the All-Ireland quarter final after winning the Leinster club final. They take on Timahoe in round 1 and tough and all as that is they will have no fear against them whatsoever. They come into the championship after achieving promotion to Division 1B for next year despite losing the Division 2 semi final to Courtwood.
20 – Courtwood (Up 1)
A coming side with representatives on Laois teams at all grades. They finished third in Division 2 under new manager Eddie Kinsella and are boosted by the inclusion of minor players like Alan Kinsella and Rory Doyle as well as the return of Luke Doyle from injury. They went on to reach the Division 2 final where they were edged out by senior side Mountmellick. They face The Rock in round one and a win there could set them up for a good year.
19 – Portlaoise (Second Team) (No Change)
Such is the strength in depth of the Town’s resources that their second team can easily consider themselves as contenders to win the Intermediate championship this year. They were just pipped by a late O’Dempsey’s penalty in the semi-final last year and they will certainly go close again if they keep a consistent team together. They finished comfortably mid-table in Division 1B as well, beating a number of senior teams along the way.
18 – Clonaslee St Manman’s Gaels (No Change)
Clonaslee-St Manman’s performed miracles to preserve their senior status last year – defeating Emo in the relegation semi-final. A small club with plenty of dual players they rarely feature strongly in the league and endured a difficult Division 2 campaign this year. They have formed an unlikely partnership with Annanough to make a Gaels team for the championship this year and while they will still start the year as favourites for relegation from senior, they have shown many times in the past that they can do what it takes to stay up.
17 – Timahoe (No Change)
It’s amazing to think that Timahoe, a team with four players on the Laois senior football squad, are embarking on their fourth year in the second tier of Laois football. In each of those years, they have lost to eventual winners but that is of little consolation to a team who would consider themselves capable of challenging for senior honours. They face Rosenallis in round one this year but it is likely to come down to themselves and Emo in the final shake up.
16 – Emo (No Change)
If anybody had to predict that Emo, a team who were within a kick of a ball of beating Portlaoise in the 2015 senior football final, would be relegated 12 months later – they would have been told they were mad. Yet, that is exactly what happened. Paul Lawlor has taken over as player manager this year and his reign began well with Emo reaching the Kelly Cup final, which they narrowly lost to St Joseph’s, and having a solid if unspectacular league campaign. But he will be judged on his ability to win the Intermediate championship at the first time of asking and they will be favourites to do that.
15 – Ballyfin Gaels (No Change)
Donnacha Phelan’s young side are improving every year and could arguably be higher in the rankings. They preserved their senior status by thumping Emo last year and could well have progressed further only for a narrow defeat to eventual semi-finalists Crettyard Gaels. They face a very tough opening game against Intermediate champions O’Dempsey’s and a bad outcome from that could see them struggle. Won’t come across many senior teams in Division 2 of the league and will then try and merge in a couple of newcomers, including Laois minor midfielder Robert Tyrell from Camross, for their Gaels team for the championship.
14 – Crettyard Gaels (Down 1)
These were the surprise package of the 2016 Senior football championship – reaching the last four for the first time in their history. So in that regard, it could be argued that they should be higher on the list. But like the Gaels teams mentioned before, it is uncertain if they will be able to reproduce the performances from last year with little or no game time together before the championship starts. As Crettyard, they suffered relegation to Division 2 of the league so that hardly bodes well. They face a Ballyroan-Abbey in round 1 and they’ll make life difficult for anyone they play.
13 – Mountmellick Gaels (Up 1)
Like all Gaels teams, it’s hard to know what way they are going to go until they play their first match – and that is certainly the case with Mountmellick Gaels. In the senior championship last year, they lost to Ballyroan-Abbey but beat The Heath before bowing out to St Jospeh’s. But their Division 2 league success sees them climb a place in the rankings. This year they begin by taking on Ballylinan in round one – a game they will go into as underdogs.
12 – Killeshin (Down 1)
Mark O’Regan’s team are full of youth and they seem primed to become a big force in Laois club football in the coming years. They finished third in Divison 1B of the league and they face a mouthwatering clash with neighbours Graiguecullen in the first round of the Senior championship. This is the standout tie of the round and a win for Killeshin could see them go on to have a big year.
11 – Arles-Kilcruise (Down 4)
For a number years, Arles-Kilcruise were the only team who could lay a glove on Portlaoise. But unfortunately for them, almost all of their better players are the wrong side of 30 now. They struggled in Division 1B of the ACFL to maintain their status and they face the daunting task of playing a wounded Portlaoise in round one of the Senior championship. Nobody likes playing them but they have declined somewhat in the last couple of seasons and they need to arrest that slide.
10 – Portarlington (No Change)
Portarlington are a bit of a funny team. They have enormous potential but have failed to deliver in recent years. They won’t be favourites to win their first round clash with Arles-Killeen but they have the ability to beat them if they get everyone on board. Their unpredictability leaves them 10th on the list.
9 – Ballyroan-Abbey (No Change)
Ballyroan-Abbey are under the stewardship of Pat Ryan this year and this very young team could make a real mark on the championship. They were only narrowly beaten by Arles-Killeen in last year’s championship and they begin this season with a very winnable clash against Crettyard Gaels. In saying that, they endured a miserable league campaign which saw them relegated back to Division 1B.
8 – Ballylinan (Up 4)
The big movers among the senior teams. Ballylinan reached the quarter final stage of the championship last year and they could be poised for a similarly progressive season this year. They won Division 1B of the ACFL and will be favourites to beat Mountmellick Gaels in round 1. After that, it will be interesting to see how far they can go but they will be without Gary Walsh for the year with a knee injury which is a massive loss.
7 – The Heath (Up 1)
2016 was really a tale of two halves for The Heath. They were crowned Division 1 league champions but an abysmal championship run saw them go from potential challengers to being almost relegated. With a number of their more established players after heading abroad this summer, and a first round clash with reigning champions Stradbally on the horizon, they may well struggle again. In saying that, they coped well enough without them lads in the league and they will certainly be competitive.
6 – Arles-Killeen (Down 1)
A bit like their neighbours Arles-Kilcruise, Arles-Killeen have an ageing squad. But in Donie and Paul Kingston, they have two of the top forwards in the county. In Donie’s case, you could even say in the country. So they will rely heavily on them to pull them along and they may well be able to do enough to return Arles-Killeen to the semi-final stage again. They face a young side in Portarlington in round 1 and the outcome of that may tell a lot of how they will get on.
5 – Graiguecullen (Down 1)
Pádraig Clancy has taken the reigns in Graigue this year and the Timahoe man began the league well, tapered off in the middle, before finishing strongly. Having disappointed in last year’s Senior championship – where they ended up in a relegation semi-final – Graiguecullen will be determined to put that behind them and they will be favourites to be beat neighbours Killeshin in round one in what should be a fiery affair.
4 – St Joseph’s (Down 1)
Stradbally ended Portlaoise’s quest for ten Laois senior football titles in a row last year but that honour could so easily have fallen to St Joseph’s. Twice they had Portlaoise by the throat in the quarter final and on both occasions they let them away with it – eventually losing the replay by four points. They reached the Division 1A final and they are certainly the up and coming team in Laois who could go very close again this year. They should beat Clonaslee St Manman’s-Gaels in round one and after winning two Laois U-21 titles in a row (albeit alongside Barrowhouse) they’ll be looking to win a first senior title in 17 years. The successful transfer of Brian Daly from Barrowhouse is another big plus for the Kellyville men.
3 – O’Dempsey’s (Up 3)
It does seem an outlandish jump that a team who have just been promoted from the Intermediate ranks would sit third on the overall list but many would argue that O’Dempsey’s should never have been relegated in the first place. Their league form this year would back that up as they were crowned Division 1A champions a few weeks ago. They have Ballyfin Gaels in round one and a win there could see them in the shake up at the latter stages.
2 – Stradbally (No Change)
And so we come to the top two. In second position sits county champions Stradbally. Some might argue that they should be first but in order to achieve that accolade, they must reproduce what they did last year. Martin Murphy will have his troops ready to go out and give their best shot at retaining their title and they begin the defence against The Heath. Thier league campaign was a bit hit and miss but that is no different to last year really. Whether they can go on the type of run that they did last year remains to be seen.
1 – Portlaoise (No Change)
In life, they say that nothing is more dangerous than a wounded animal – and Portlaoise are certainly wounded after what happened to them in 2016. They were two points up and had their tenth senior football title in a row within their reach when Jody Dillon scored that goal which gave them no time to recover. But you can be certain that Malachy McNulty and his men will be determined to take the crown back to the Town and they will begin that quest against Arles-Kilcruise. Winning back the title again would give them massive satisfaction and they start the year as favourites.
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